Our advisor on bullfighting, the ethologist Jordi Casamitjana, has, at our request, provided this very detailed analysis of the results of the referendum in Ecuador:

“I have been very involved in the campaign to ban bullfighting in Ecuador, so I know it very well.

The referendum question proposed initially by the government changed quite a lot. It started quite clearly asking for a total ban, but it became more and more ambiguous. It was finally sent to the Constitutional Tribunal for approval, and changed even more by them. All these changes came from the bullfighting lobby trying to avoid a ban, which had members in the government itself, including the vice-president.

This is how the question finally ended up:

“Regarding the prohibition on killing animals in spectacles, do you agree that, in the municipality where you live, the spectacles that have as purpose the killing of the animal should be banned?”

The results of the referendum are mixed. Some are good things and some bad.


  1. In the capital Quito , where the most important bullfighting festival takes place, the YES for the ban won by a good margin
  2. The national average regarding the ban is a majority for the YES
  3. In the three main cities Quito, Guayaquil and Cuenca, the YES for the ban won
  4. In the majority of municipalities, the YES for the ban won
  5. In some municipalities where the YES won, it won by a large margin
  6. As the question was worded, one can interpret that a YES means a ban on bullfighting
  7. Despite the fact that the question only referred to municipalities, since it was national, one can infer that a national victory for the YES implies that Ecuadorian society would accept a national ban, if any politician decided to proposed one
  8. In most of the municipalities where the NO won, it won by a short margin
  9. There is nothing to prevent a municipality from interpreting the results in such a way that they ban completely bullfighting and also cockfighting
  10. Considering that many people voted NO to all 10 questions simply as an anti-government reaction (since the government campaigned for YES to all), this means that the vast majority of Ecuadorians are against bullfighting, since even with this blanket vote for  NO, the national average still gave a majority for YES to the bullfighting question.
  11. The results are sufficient to mobilise the animal protection movement towards a demand for the creation of a national animal protection law – not yet in existence –  which would include a ban on bullfighting, animals in circuses, and much more.
  12. The Ecuadorian animal protection movement has been energised by this campaign, and now there are more people than ever active against bullfighting
  13. The Ecuadorian animal protection movement has now many more materials and arguments against bullfighting than it had before the campaign, which can be used to continue the campaign towards total abolition
  14. Any implementation of a “reform” that may only ban the killing of the bull will create divisions within the bullfighting industry, and it may well be that bullfighters refuse to perform if they are not allowed to kill the bull, leading to an eventual abolition without an actual ban.


  1. In the majority of municipalities where bullfighting was already being practised (since it is not practised everywhere), the NO won
  2. In the major bullfighting regions besides Quito, the NO won
  3. In two of the three municipalities that had previously declared themselves anti-bullfighting, Baños and Loja,  the NO has now won
  4. The average national victory for the YES is not very big compared with the NO  – less than 15%  difference
  5. In some municipalities where the NO won, it won by a large margin  – for instance, Ambato, the most fervent bullfighting region in the country
  6. As the question was worded, one could somehow interpret that a YES only means a ban on the killing of the bull in public, not a ban on bullfighting
  7. As the question was worded, the national victory of the YES may be meaningless, and what counts may only be each result in each municipality, so, in those where the NO won, nothing may change
  8. During the campaign, the government changed its tune from making clear statements against bullfighting to saying that bullfighting will not be banned, just reformed ; and now it may need to continue with this approach to avoid further contradictions
  9. If any municipality decides only to ban the killing of the bulls and nothing else, the bulls there will end up suffering more , since they may spend a long time in pain before they are finally put down
  10. The bullfighting industry has been woken up by this campaign and now they are promoting bullfighting in Ecuador more than ever
  11. If the reform instead of abolition route is chosen, other countries where the majority of the population want a total ban may try it too, delaying the overall process of total abolition for quite a few years.

So, to sum up, there is no reason to be overjoyed, but nor to be depressed either.

In order to be able to evaluate these results, consider something nearer home – foxhunting and the Hunting Act. Some people from our side rejoiced when the Hunting Act was passed, others thought that it was not enough, some who saw hunters being convicted with it said “you see, it works”, and others who saw hunters getting away with illegal hunting said “you see, it doesn’t work”.

In Ecuador we are facing a similar situation, but worse. It is worse because the question was worded in such a fashion that it can be interpreted in many ways. So both bullfighters and anti-bullfighters are claiming victory, but we will only really know who actually won when we see how politicians, both national and local, interpret the question and the results. Imagine how complicated the situation could be if each municipality interprets it completely differently.

Here’s the question again:
“Regarding the prohibition on killing animals in spectacles, do you agree that, in the municipality where you live, the spectacles that have as purpose the killing of the animal should be banned?”

This is how we interpret it: The only “action” that the question says “should happen” is the “banning of certain spectacles”, and the only way to distinguish which spectacles should be banned is their purpose, not their form. The only spectacle in Ecuador which has as its purpose the killing of an animal is bullfighting, so bullfighting should be banned.

However, the bullfighters (and now the Government) interpret the question to mean that the public does not want to ban bullfighting, but only reform it, to eliminate the killing of the bull in public. There is nothing in the question regarding “in public” or “in private”, and we know that once you hurt the bull it will not survive and this is why they always kill it afterwards, even in the Portuguese and North American bullfights; therefore the “purpose” of the death of the animal exists in all the versions that the bullfighting industry say they may try now in Ecuador.
Bullfighters disagree.

If we look at it from a purely “legal” point of view, we would think that our interpretation of the question should indeed lead to an abolition of bullfighting in Ecuador, since each municipality where the YES won and either does not change anything, or only reforms, instead of banning bullfighting, could be challenged successfully in the courts; and if that damaged the industry enough, it would not be able to survive only in the municipalities where the NO won. These would anyway be threatened, since the campaign for a national ban would continue, and sooner or later would be successful.

However, if you look at it from the political point of view, the picture is quite different, since here you have a country with many pro-bullfighting politicians, judges, councillors and lawyers, who may as well interpret the questions as they please and stop any attempts at a ban for a long time, using “reform” as an excuse for burying the referendum question into oblivion.

To show you how complex the situation is, let’s go back to the Hunting Act analogy.
Now, imagine that instead a Bill being passed in Parliament (Using the Parliament Act to overrule the House of Lords opposition to it, by the way), the Government had put the question in a national referendum worded as follows:

Regarding the methods of pest control used in the countryside, do you agree that, in the county where you live, the sports that use dogs to chase wild mammals other than rabbits and rats, and have as main purpose the killing of such mammals, should be banned?”

Now imagine that in London, Manchester and Birmingham the majority vote for YES, but that in the majority of counties where hunting is traditional, the NO wins.
What a mess, isn’t it? Imagine the Countryside Alliance then coming out saying that the purpose of organised foxhunting is not killing foxes, but just chasing them with horses and dogs, so the only thing that should be banned in those counties where the YES won is the killing of the fox by the terriermen.

In general, you would consider this situation far from satisfactory, would you not? But it may be better that no change at all, would it not?

Now, let’s add another twist that makes the analogy even closer to the Ecuador case. Imagine that in Devon, the keenest hunting county, and the only one where stag hunts still exist, the YES won. Then there certainly would be good reason for not feeling depressed, would there not?

Well, that is the situation with the YES victory in Quito.

As you see, the referendum is not the end of anything, but the beginning of something very complex, that may well end up being the first total abolition of bullfighting in a whole nation in the 21st century, or may not.

Many thanks from Quaker Concern for Animals, Jordi, for this helpful explanation.
For Jordi Casamitjana’s Animal Protection Consultancy, please visit: www.animal-protection-consult.com

The photos illustrating this article are of Fadjen, the Spanish bull rescued by Christophe Thomas in Brittany. More about them in our article  French Bullfight Update in the archive, May 14.